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x P.L. McMillan
2.3 The Reflected Forest – Side Effects
Anthony’s heart leapt into his throat in the split second it took him to realize he was looking at his own reflection in the thirteenth mirror. The split second after, he remembered that his reflection wasn’t supposed to be there. An overwhelming tsunami of dizziness overcame him. He stumbled towards the bright room, hands outstretched and vision spinning. The man in the mirror caught his gaze. Anthony thought he saw a wry smile cross his doppelganger’s face. Then the man turned and began to walk away. Anthony fell against the glass, hammering at it with fists that quickly became numb from the unforgiving impact.
The man with his face didn’t turn back, only disappeared into the mists of the reflected forest. Anthony struck at the glass over and over again, the crystal frame rang with a piercing admonition.
“Come back, you bastard, come back here!” Anthony cried.
His voice rose in pitch, mixing to create a terrible melody with the chimes. His hands throbbed with intense pain that shot straight to his elbows, echoing off into his shoulders. Firm hands grabbed the back of his shirt, pulling him, forcing him off balance. Fevered, Anthony spun, fists out in defence. The back of his right fist struck Sharon’s cheek and she stumbled back a few steps, one hand on her belly and the other rising to press against the skin that was, even now, quickly turning red.
“Sharon – I’m so –”
She turned out the hand that had been pressed to her face.
“Enough, Anthony. I don’t know what has gotten into you, but it’s enough.”
His beautiful wife turned and went back into the cellar proper. Went to the base of the stairs, stopping with one foot planted on the bottom step.
“Board that room up. Tonight. I won’t stand for anymore of this madness,” she said, her voice cold.
With that, Sharon ascended the stairs. Anthony heard her steps creak through the kitchen and into the hall above his head. Anthony gripped the door frame. As the adrenaline faded away, his stomach roiled with violent nausea and, for a moment, he was sure he would vomit. That feeling passed and he was able to stand. He stood on the mirror room’s threshold, gazing at the thirteen treasures that blazed brilliantly in the harsh light of the overhead bulbs. He couldn’t bear to turn the light out on them and chose, instead, to close the door.
He knew there was no disobeying his wife. He went to the farthest corner of the cellar, where some leftover two-by-fours were stacked against the dirt wall. He carried them over to the door under the stairs, then retrieved his toolkit from a shelf.
Every pound of a nail sent a pang through his heart.
“Only for a short time. I’ll convince her. It will only be for a short time,” he tried to promise himself, picking up the second plank of wood.
After the deed was done and he had returned to the second floor, Anthony slipped into bed next to his wife. She didn’t acknowledge him. He stared at the darkened ceiling and mouthed that promise over and over until the hint of dawn sent a warm glow over the walls.
* * * * * *
Anthony snapped awake, nearly tipping over backwards on his office chair. He hastily took his feet off his desk, rubbing his chin. Gemma was poking her head in his partially open office door. Her face was grave.
“Can I come in?” she asked.
“Yeah, yeah, of course, Gemma,” Anthony said, trying not to let his irritation show.
He sat up straight, stretching out the stiffness in his back and reached for his coffee mug, only to find it empty. He sighed.
Gemma stood in front of his desk and placed a clipboard on top of the scattered mess of loose paper he had over the entire surface. Student papers. He’d been grading student papers before he had dozed off.
He picked up the clipboard and saw several loose-leaf pages covered in Gemma’s messy scrawl. He didn’t want to make the effort to read the mess. Of all the women he knew, she had to have had the ugliest writing. Thinking that made him smile. Sharon prided herself on her beautiful cursive penmanship, having designed and written each and every wedding invite herself. Some of their friends had even kept them, putting them on display like art.
He forced himself to focus on what Gemma was saying.
“– reported audio hallucinations and inexplicable feeling of dread.”
“Wait, wait. What are you talking about?”
Gemma bit her lip so hard Anthony was afraid she would bite right through it.
“Our test subjects, Dr. Coates, for the fulgurite experiments? Every single one of them is experiencing side effects, there’s no reason to it!”
All the warmth imbued to him by the cheerful afternoon sunshine disappeared. He felt cold all over and his skin prickled with apprehension as he read through Gemma’s report. The first paragraph was all he needed to see, the rest was just detailed notes Gemma had made of her actions, the dates and times of her phone calls, and a list of the subjects’ contacts.
“Subject 11, newest to experiment reports no effect. Subjects nine through ten report hearing constant ringing, doctors could find no cause. Subjects six through eight report depressive episodes and thoughts of suicide. Subjects four and five have claimed to seen ghosts and heard loud percussive noises. Subject four is also suffering from a ruptured ear drum. Subject three is in Arkham Institute after a failed attempt at suicide. I could not reach subjects one or two, nor reach the person listed as their emergency contact. Will continue to try and connect.”
Anthony skimmed over the rest of it. He dropped the clipboard on his desk and rubbed at his face.
“I don’t understand how our subjects could be experiencing such severe side effects. It’s just a sound,” Gemma said, wringing her hands.
“I know of side effects caused by sound that occurs at frequencies less than 20 Hz. People have reported seeing things or feeling ill, but the crystals resonate at an average 450 Hz. It shouldn’t be affecting our subjects like this. Especially because removing a person from the range of an infrasound removes the symptoms.”
He said this mechanically but as he did, he thought about the room under the stairs and the albino trees.
“I’ve been trying all day to find where subjects one and two are,” Gemma said.
“Get all the subjects in tomorrow morning. We need to find out how serious the mental degradation is and if there is a way we can stop it.”
Anthony stood, turning his back on his assistant. He heard her leave and shut the door. He stood there, straining his ears, wondering if he would start to hear things, see things. He wondered at his won depression. When did it start? Did it start when he and Sharon moved into the old family home? Depression ran in his family, were those crystals the reason?
His hands were shaking. His world was starting to tilt, and he didn’t know how to stop it. Anthony turned and starting shoving papers into his briefcase. He needed to get out, go somewhere, anywhere but here where reality was hard and unrelenting.
He ended up at The Pint at the Doorstep. Cobb took one look at Anthony’s face and put a rye and coke down on the bar. He drank it down in two long swallows and gestured at the older man for another. The bartender obliged and leaned against the counter to watch Anthony drink his second. The bar was empty, being too early in the day to have attracted its regulars so Cobb had no one else to tend to.
“Heavy day, hoss?” the old man asked, polishing a glass with a cloth.
Anthony didn’t respond, just finished his drink. Cobb poured him another and then stood at the bar, polishing glasses and hem-hawing over them. Anthony stared into the dark depths of his drink. He couldn’t concentrate, he wanted to focus on finding a solution, but his brain was short circuiting, jumping all over the place, and being utterly useless.
Taking a deep breath, he finished off his second and clutched his head in his hands, squeezed his eyes shut, and forced his brain to stop. For several seconds, he was able to keep his mind blank. He heard the sounds of Cobb refilling his drink – the fizzing cola, the tinkle of ice cubes against glass, the heavy thud as the glass landed on the bar top.
There had been eleven volunteers in all – all able-bodied adult males, eager to earn an extra five dollars a week just to listen to Gemma vibrating the fulgurite at varying intensities. The first subject had been started only two days before the second. From there, they had brought in new subjects every other day and had them return once a week. In the beginning, each had reported feelings of euphoria and bliss, relaxation and satisfaction. Now, five months later, things were going south.
Even worse, the Coates family had always suffered a sort of melancholy. A family history of depression and suicides and now – of all times and of all things – could this be why? Could the secret room beneath the stairs, could those constantly humming mirrors be the curse of the family?
“Some kind of new sound type? Similar to the infrasound?” Anthony asked himself.
“You say somethin’?” Cobb asked, leaning over the counter and cupping a hand around an ear in an exaggerated motion.
Anthony looked up at the old man, whose features were now blurred with the rum. It looked like his large, bulbous nose was melting off his face, like he was like a waxwork figure in a too hot room.
“I’m cursed, Cobb. My whole family and I. Cursed.”